Nick Payne puts Luton in the murky water of a new West End stage comedy
Luton is the setting for a major new play which opens in the West End this week.
The Same Deep Water As Me, at The Donmar Warehouse from Thursday, is a compo culture comedy that is right on the button for today’s something-for-nothing society.
It’s the work of 28-old Nick Payne, who did more than his fair share of hanging around the town’s Arndale shopping centre at weekends before going off to York Uni and becoming this country’s brightest new dramatist.
In a ridiculously short period of time the bespectacled writer has gone from serving behind the counter at The National Theatre’s bookshop, and ushering in the public at The Old Vic, to multiple-award winning playwright.
Nick was on the Royal Court’s Young Writer’s programme, coming up with his first play, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, in 2009, which won an award. It was followed by more plays, more critical acclaim and then, in 2012, Constellations, starring Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, which won him the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play.
On top of that he’s hobnobbing with Hollywood and there’s talk of two film adaptations of his work.
Although Nick grew up on the Lower Luton Road, in Wheathampstead, his dad was born and grew up in Luton, in a house on Calverton Road, and there’s a certain nostalgia attached to setting his latest play in the town.
He told me: “My mum and dad met in Luton and moved in to their first flat together on Marsh Road. Although I didn’t grow up in Luton, as a child I would regularly visit the Arndale (and I loved it).
“My dad was a Luton Town supporter and the first professional football match I ever saw was at Kenilworth Road.
“I chose to set the play in Luton mostly out of nostalgia, I think”.
The seeds of The Same Deep Water As Me were first formed three years ago and researching the background has taken the young writer into the murky world of fraud. He’s interviewed cops and sat in on a crown court trial.
The comedy, which runs until the end of September, stars Daniel Mays as a no-win, no-fee personal injury lawyer who returns from London to Luton to see his dying father and is drawn into a criminal conspiracy with a character from his past.
Andrew (Mays, seen recently on TV playing Ronnie Biggs) and Barry (Nigel “Four Lions” Lindsay) run Scorpion Claims, Luton’s finest personal injury lawyers.
When Kevin, Andrew’s high school nemesis, appears in his office the opportunity for a quick win arises – until the lying starts to get out of control.
“I think it’s a really complex area, “said Nick.
“As we hear about large companies - Apple, Amazon, so on - going to great lengths to minimise the amount of tax they pay, I wonder if there might be a danger that this murky behaviour has an affect on the rest of us?
“ Might, for instance, the cunning behaviour of these companies fuel those of us who perhaps feel disenfranchised, and who are struggling financially, to behave similarly? I don’t know. But it’s a question I hope the play explores.”